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Lockdown is an emotional rollercoaster, made all the more difficult because we don’t know how long the ride will be. There are days we feel like we’re coping, or even getting used to, this new way of living. And then, out of nowhere, comes a dip.
These days of low mood – or dip days, as we on the HuffPost UK Life team have coined them – happen when our longing for normality becomes too much. They exist on a spectrum, of course, and might spark feelings of sadness, loneliness, anger, boredom, fatigue, a lack of motivation, anxiety or depression.
Counsellor and psychotherapist Lucy Fuller says it’s totally normal to feel up and down at the moment, because seven weeks in, we’re still in unfamiliar territory.
“No one saw a worldwide pandemic resulting lockdown on the horizon,” she says, “and after the initial shock and novelty of the experience, we’re all now generally knuckling down and enduring our situation. When we reflect on it, this will inevitably have an effect on our emotional health because we’re in the midst of a strange situation that is fundamentally, very unsettling.”
We’re likely to find different things trigger our dip days, says Fuller. For some, it might be concern for vulnerable loved ones. For others, it could be job insecurity, or working on the front line to tackle the virus. Some of us may not have an identifiable trigger, but that doesn’t make the experience any less valid.
To ride the wave of a dip day, Fuller recommends trying to maintain a routine and setting yourself some goals. These can be small, such as going for a mile-long walk, putting on the washing, or reading 20 pages of a book.
“This will keep you occupied and focus your attention on ‘doing’ rather than on thinking yourselves into a dark hole,” she says.
“If you’re working from home, tell yourself you’ll complete a number of tasks before rewarding yourself in some way – maybe a bath with a chapter from your favourite audio book or watching your favourite film. It doesn’t have to be anything too ambitious – you’re having a bad day, so be kind to yourself.”
Tell yourself it’s “very likely tomorrow will be better”, she says. Like the virus, this too shall pass. If you’re struggling to find hope, try shifting your focus to the future beyond lockdown, by listing things you’re looking forward to when all this is over.
Professor Robert Emmons, known as the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, previously told HuffPost UK this is the best way to boost positivity right now. It’s called gratitude forecasting – “Imagine how grateful you will be when life returns to normal,” he said. “Consider simple pleasures you’re currently deprived of, and then visualise experiencing those once again.”
Fuller also recommends avoiding the news for 48 hours to recover from a low period and connecting with someone who brings you joy. “You might not feel like making the effort, but if you choose who you connect with carefully, you’re unlikely to regret having talked to them afterwards,” she says.
Remember, while we’re all likely to have low days during this pandemic, they shouldn’t take over your life. If you have several dip days in succession and feel unable to function normally, it’s time to seek mental health support.
“You need to let someone know and contact your GP who will be able to contact you remotely so you can talk about how you’re feeling,” says Fuller.
“Be aware that many therapists have switched their counselling sessions to online and are offering low cost and free consultations, so it’s worth searching for what might be available.”